Protein powders are one of the most popular supplements.

Manufacturers make protein powder from many different animal and plant sources.

Whey protein is one of the most popular types. It’s protein isolated from cow’s milk, so it’s animal-based.

However, pea protein and other plant-based protein powders are steadily gaining popularity.

This article compares pea and whey protein powders and provides some suggestions for determining which one may be best for you.


Pea and whey protein compared

Manufacturers make protein powder by extracting protein from whole foods and then concentrating and preparing it into a powdered form.

Depending on the specific type of supplement, manufacturers use a variety of techniques to isolate the desired protein. These may include adding enzymes and acid, and using additional filtering processes.

The source of the proteins used for pea and whey protein powders is one of the biggest differences between the two.

Whey protein is isolated from whey, a milky by-product left over during the cheesemaking process. Because it comes from milk, most whey protein powder contains the milk sugar lactose.

Pea protein is plant-based and lactose-free. It’s isolated from legumes — yellow split peas, in particular.

The following are a few more notable differences between pea and whey protein powders.


Allergens

While many types of whey protein contain allergens like lactose and gluten, most types of pea protein are free from all of the most common allergens.

This might make pea and other plant-based protein powders a desirable choice for people with food allergies or those following a dairy or gluten-free diet.

People with allergies or intolerances to gluten and dairy may find that pea protein powder is easier to digest. They may feel less gassy or bloated when they use it instead of whey protein.


Similarities

Pea and whey protein powders are not completely different from each other. They share some similarities.

For starters, they’re both great sources of protein.

Neither one has much of a remarkable taste or texture, yet they’re both incredibly versatile and easy to mix with other food and drinks.

People often consume them by simply mixing the powder into a shake using a liquid like water or milk.

You can also add them to smoothies, oatmeal, muffins, pancakes, and many more foods and drinks.

SUMMARY

Whey protein comes from milk and is a by-product of cheesemaking, while pea protein comes from ground yellow split peas. Both are great sources of protein that you can easily add to various foods and beverages.


Nutrition profiles

Below are the average nutritional profiles for 1-ounce (30-gram) scoops of pea and whey protein powder (Trusted Source).

Pea and whey protein powders are both rich sources of protein, though whey powder does tend to have a slightly higher amount.

They’re also both relatively low in carbs, fat, fiber, and sugar.

Because it’s made from milk, whey protein has more calcium and potassium. On the other hand, pea protein has more iron. Legumes, including peas, are a great source of the nutrient.

Furthermore, studies have found that some of the components of both peas and whey may have beneficial properties. These plant compounds may have a variety of health benefits, such as acting as antioxidants and fighting disease (Trusted Source).

Exactly how many compounds remain present in processed protein powders and how they influence human health remain unclear.


Protein content

Peas and whey contain similar amounts of protein. They’re both great sources of it. However, whey protein powder does tend to contain a few more grams of protein per serving than pea powder (Trusted Source).

That said, the exact protein content varies between brands and depends on the scoop or serving size the brand suggests.

This information is listed on each supplement’s nutrition facts label.

Although pea and whey are both rich in protein, the types of protein they contain can differ.

In general, animal sources of protein, like whey, are easier for the body to absorb and use in muscle-building activities (Trusted Source).

How well and how quickly the body digests and uses protein has a lot to do with the specific amino acids it contains.


Amino acids

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Nine of the amino acids that the body needs are called essential. This means the body cannot produce them on its own, and instead you must consume them in your diet.

Whey protein powder is considered a complete protein because it contains all nine essential amino acids. It contains especially high amounts of the essential branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) leucine, isoleucine, and valine (Trusted Source).

In terms of essential amino acid content, whey is one of the best protein sources.

Pea protein also contains all of the essential amino acids. However, it only has very small amounts of methionine, one of the essential nine (Trusted Source).

Thus, some pea protein powders may not meet the definition of a complete protein.

Still, when compared with other plant-based sources of protein, pea protein is a good source of essential amino acids. In fact, it even contains more of certain essential amino acids, like histidine and phenylalanine, than whey protein does per serving (Trusted Source).

If you’re worried about not getting all of the essential amino acids you need from pea protein, one option is to mix pea protein powder with other types of plant-based proteins that also contain the essential nine.

SUMMARY

Most pea and whey protein powders deliver more than 20 grams of protein per serving, but with differing levels of essential amino acids. Whey protein contains more cholesterol, calcium, and potassium. Pea protein has more fiber and iron.


What people use them for

People use protein powders for many reasons.

Some of the most popular reasons are to build strength, repair tissue, and maintain muscle stores in the body.

People also use them as meal replacements, to increase protein intake, and even to help with weight loss.


Effectiveness for muscle gain

Protein powders have the greatest effect on muscle gain in people whose diets are lacking in protein.

On the other hand, people whose diets already contain enough protein may not notice any significant changes (Trusted Source).

When it comes to which type of protein powder is best for muscle building, it may seem like whey would outshine pea due to its amino acid content.

However, multiple research studies from the past few years have found that pea and whey protein powders tend to have similar outcomes for muscle thickness and recovery when people use them after high intensity and resistance exercise (Trusted Source).


Effectiveness for weight loss

One small study in men found pea and whey protein supplements had similar effects on appetite and food intake. There were few notable differences between the animal and plant sources of protein (Trusted Source).

In fact, some studies have even found that whey protein powders have little effect on weight loss at all (Trusted Source).

Some older studies found evidence to suggest that pea protein could have greater effects on appetite and feelings of fullness than whey protein. Both these factors could affect weight loss, in theory (Trusted Source).

However, other studies found pea protein supplements had no significant effects on appetite (Trusted Source).

One potential reason why pea protein could help people feel fuller for longer may be its higher fiber content.

Thus, scientists need to do more research to fully understand exactly how pea and whey protein powders affect specific things like muscle gain and weight loss.

SUMMARY

For muscle gain, protein powders are most effective in people whose diets are currently lacking in protein. Scientists need to do more research on the use of protein powder for weight loss.


Other factors to consider

Although studies have not shown that pea protein is significantly better than whey protein for muscle building or weight loss, it may have other advantages for certain groups of people.

For example, pea protein powder is a suitable choice for people following a vegan diet, while whey protein powder is not.

Some people also consider pea protein to be more sustainable than whey protein since growing peas tends to have much less of an environmental impact than raising cattle.

However, pea protein powders are not as common as whey protein powders and may be harder to find at some stores.

Plus, some brands of organic pea protein powder may be more expensive than whey powders.

As with all nutritional supplements, pea and whey protein products can vary greatly between brands and types. Always look for high quality products that limit the number of additives.

SUMMARY

For vegans, people with allergies, or those focused on choosing a more sustainable product, pea protein powder may be best. For people wanting an affordable and reliable option, whey protein might work better.


The bottom line

Pea and whey protein powders are useful supplements for people whose diets are lacking in protein or for those with exceptionally high protein needs.

Each type of protein powder provides good amounts of protein and a variety of essential amino acids.

If you’re trying to choose between pea and whey protein powders, key points you may want to consider include your budget, dietary restrictions, and personal preferences.

Read more about: Soybeans 101: Nutrition Facts and Health Effects